Some days you feel like you’re on your own personal journey to climb Mount Everest. Maybe it’s a big meeting at work that has you feeling bogged down or an argument with a friend that’s weighing on your heart. When it comes to stress triggers, the list is endless.
“Stress can result from a lot of everyday happenings,” says Farrah Hauke, a licensed psychologist in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Chronic worry, negative thinking — such as ‘catastrophizing’ the worst possible scenario happening, not sleeping well, not eating well, suppressing and ignoring problems as opposed to expressing and addressing them, toxic work environments, abusive relationships, procrastinating, poor health … the causes are almost endless.”
If you’re part of the 79% of Americans who report feeling stressed throughout any given day, take a deep breath. Here, experts give us essential tips on strategies to better navigate everyday stress.
There are piles of research that show the benefits of a regular meditation practice, ranging from making you a better athlete to dramatically lowering stress levels. In a study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, people who received just three consecutive days of mindfulness training felt calmer when faced with a stressful task.
“Sitting quietly for 10 minutes at the start and end of the day helps center us,” says Lara Pence, MBA, PsyD. “When we are constantly reacting to people and situations, we feel disconnected from ourselves. It’s as if life is happening to us. When we sit still without any distraction and quiet the mind and observe our thoughts, we are able to see how we can control our thoughts as opposed to having our thinking controlling us.”
START YOUR DAY RIGHT
Although waking up to an alarm during the week may be a necessity, that doesn’t mean your whole morning has got to be a jarring experience. Create early rituals to start your day in a way that soothes you, not stresses you.
“If checking your email immediately increases your heart rate, don’t let it be the very first thing you do when you wake up,” suggests Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist, faculty member at Columbia University Teachers College and founder and clinical director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services. “Get out of bed and have some tea first. Or read one paragraph in a book you enjoy.” Although it may feel like you’re delaying your day, those simple 5-minute routines actually make you more productive in the long run, he says.
WRITE THINGS DOWN
Studies suggest putting pen to paper can improve immune cell activity as well as improve memory, set the stage for better sleep and even help us chill out. Pence suggests a simple exercise to keep stress at bay: Write out what currently stresses you out, then cross it out with a red pen. This conditions us to adopt a new approach.
“When someone has a limiting belief that they only can achieve success through sacrifice they will tolerate more stress, thinking it’s the sacrifice to achieve success,” she says. For example: If you cross out a belief that says “to be successful I have to work hard and extra hours” and replace it with a new belief that says “my success comes from maintaining my peace,” then you may be delighted with the result.
Think of physical activity as meditation in motion. Research shows exercise can help alleviate depression and feelings of anxiety, largely due to the chemical reactions that happen in the body as soon as we work up a sweat. “It helps release your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins,” says Hauke. “No one ever regrets a workout.”
CONNECT IN PERSON
In today’s digital age, people are constantly accessible behind a screen. But spending time, in person, with someone can drastically impact your mood and ease feelings of stress. “Find one or two people that always make you feel like the world can fade away for a moment and spend time with them,” suggests Pence. “Grab coffee, go for a walk, get groceries together — it doesn’t matter. Just be with them. Your brain will reward you and the stress will feel less heavy.”